Al Qaeda, tribal allies ‘control’ Fallujah

Iraq. Click map to view.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, an al Qaeda branch in the Middle East, and its tribal allies have taken control of Fallujah less than one week after launching an offensive in Iraq’s western province of Anbar. Meanwhile, the military and tribes that oppose the ISIS have launched counterattacks in Ramadi and other cities and towns along the Euphrates River.

Security officials and reports told the BBC that the ISIS fighters “control the south of the city,” while “tribesmen allied with al Qaeda hold the rest of Fallujah.” Reuters reported that “the northern and eastern parts of the city were under the control of tribesmen and militants.”

The names of the tribes that are supporting al Qaeda have not been disclosed. During the height of al Qaeda’s power in Fallujah, from 2004 to 2007, the Zobai and the Fuhaylat sub-tribe of the Albu Issa backed al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the ISIS.

Jihadists waving al Qaeda’s black flag have occupied police stations and government buildings, and are issuing calls from mosques for men to join the fight against the government.

The military has responded by shelling areas of the city under ISIS control. The total number of people killed during the fighting in Fallujah is not yet known.

ISIS fighters seized control of parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, the two largest cities in Anbar, on Tuesday after the Iraqi military withdrew from the cities in the wake of clashes between government forces and the tribes following the arrest of a senior Sunni politician in Ramadi. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda seizes partial control of 2 cities in western Iraq]. Maliki ordered the troops to return to the cities after cutting a deal with the tribes, but not before the ISIS quickly moved in and seized control.

Fallujah and Ramadi were considered the seats of al Qaeda in Iraq’s power from 2004 to early 2007. Large areas of the two cities were either controlled by al Qaeda or were contested. The Awakening and US and Iraqi forces waged a protracted counterinsurgency to clear al Qaeda from the two cities as well as from surrounding cities and towns along the Euphrates River Valley.

Fighting continues in Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar

In Ramadi, ISIS fighters still control areas in the city, but the Iraqi military and Sunni tribes are battling to regain control of the lost neighborhoods. A senior Iraqi general told AFP that 25 ISIS fighters have been killed during an operation. Yesterday, an ISIS commander known as Abu Abelrahman al Baghdadi, who is thought to be the group’s emir in Ramadi, is said to have been killed during the clashes.

Fighting in other areas of Anbar has been reported. The Iraqi general claimed that “a large gathering of [ISIS] members was targeted” near the town of Karma, and that 30 ISIS fighters were killed. Karma, a town just east of Fallujah, was also hotly contested from 2004 to 2007.

Outside of Fallujah, the Iraqi tribes appear to be organizing to fight the spread of al Qaeda. The head of the Dulamyi tribal confederation “has called on all tribes in Anbar to carry weapons and stand beside the Armed Forces to combat the remnants of the terrorists al Qaeda and the ISIS, protect police centers and expel terrorists from them, and give information about infiltrators among the tribes,” according to a Jan. 2 report on Al Iraqiya TV.

Iraqi tribes and the military are also said to be organizing to launch operations to clear the cities and towns of Rawa, Anah, Haditha, and Al Qaim.

Al Qaeda regaining control of areas in Iraq it lost during the surge

The ISIS has had success in regaining control of areas of Iraq that it lost during combined US and Iraqi counterinsurgency operations from 2007 to 2009. A map recently produced by Reuters shows that the ISIS controls villages and towns along the Euphrates River and the border with Syria as well as in the desert in Anbar, in areas south of Baghdad, in the Hamrin Mountains in Diyala and Salahaddin, and in numerous areas in Ninewa [map is below].

When the Reuters map is compared with maps produced in 2008 by Multinational Forces – Iraq that show al Qaeda control in Iraq in 2006 [leftmost map] at the height of the organization’s strength in the country, and 2008 [center map] after the group was driven from many of its sanctuaries, al Qaeda’s resurgence becomes clear.

The ISIS began retaking control of areas in Iraq after the US withdrew military, intelligence, and logistical support from the Iraqi military and intelligence services and abandoned its support of the Awakening in December 2011. The Syrian civil war and a political standoff between Prime Minister Maliki and Sunnis in Anbar have also fueled the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq.

In Syria, the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s other branch in Syria, and allied Islamist groups from the Islamic Front control large areas in the northern and eastern portions of the country.


For a larger image, click the map. Left and center maps: these two maps were produced by MNF-I in 2008 to show how al Qaeda was driven from its sanctuaries during the surge. Dark red indicates control; light red indicates presence. Right map: this map was produced by Reuters in December 2013.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Gordon says:

    Note that “ash-Sham” means Syria, so “Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham” = “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”.

  • Bill Baar says:

    I noticed on the earlier post about Fallujah and Ramadi no one mentioned Iran might step up and further fill the void the US left. I suspect Maliki prevails here with Iranian help and the big losers moderate Sunni’s who thought a more moderate and liberal Sunni variant of Islam could thrive. It’s Iran or ISIS now. Lesson is don’t bank on the west or Liberalism for help.

  • Slow POKEY says:

    All the effort. All the blood and treasury we spent. I want to cry.

  • Scott J says:

    John McCain and Lindsey Graham are busy blaming the Obama administration for this. But they are not mentioning that U.S. forces left Iraq under the terms and timeline negotiated with the Iraqis by the Bush administration, not the Obama administration. They are also not mentioning that, as a condition of an extended U.S. military presence in Iraq, the Iraqis were demanding that U.S. forces be subject to Iraqi criminal courts. This was a demand the U.S. rightly would not agree to, and so we pulled out.
    They also seem to be forgetting that Iraq is a sovereign nation, not a U.S. state. There is a lot of history in Iraq, and the U.S. occupation was only 8 years of it. This situation in Fallujah and Ramadi is going to be resolved by the Iraqis, as it should be.
    And while they point an accusatory finger at the present administration, they are silent on just exactly who is arming and funding these AQ groups. Money and weapons to carry out war do not just magically appear out of thin air.
    As for me, I think there are Saudi fingerprints all over this. But any mention of it seems to be taboo for U.S. politicians or the major media. They and a couple other oil kingdoms are responsible for arming and funding the jihadist groups in Syria, and no doubt, Iraq.
    The Saudis seem to have turned a corner lately. It’s time to regard them as a malevolent player, not a friend, not an ally. Better late than never.

  • Eric says:

    There were always more powerful cultural forces at work than the political institutions established to run post-Hussein Iraq with the US’ help. The state apparatus was ripe for takeover by a strong-man, because that is the tribal way. The power of the vote shifted the Shiites into the power position and shifted the Sunnis into the survival position. When the government sends security forces to capture or kill the coterie of a Sunni MP, there will be a community uprising. Rule of and Due Process of Law are often not followed as a first resort. Al Qaeda is considered a friend when they help resist a common enemy. None of this should surprise anyone. Why did it even take this long? Nor should the Arabs rely on western liberals to help them safeguard their political future. They have a destiny awaiting them. The west should leave them to it. When Al Qaeda has a home, they face annihilation from the Western nations they have declared war on. Should they sue for peace, they may keep their home. But they will never ask for terms, and so will never enjoy safety. So be it for the next hundred years. People will migrate to the places they want to belong to. Life and living will go on.

  • Stephanie says:

    So terrible. I was so sad to read this and disappointed especially that John Kerry vowed not to send any troops into Iraq. Having spent time in that country, it breaks my heart to see this happen.

  • M3fd2002 says:

    It looks like the Wahhabis control the euphrates river valley. This was a significant military setback for Maliki. My guess is that the Iraqi military left a lot of ordinance in the field as they retreated, which was captured by Isis. The usa will have to sit back and watch, we have zero leverage. Slow pokey, your sentiment is felt by many people. This is just the beginning. It will be repeated in Afghanistan as well. What ever our strategy is, it is not working well.

  • Dave says:

    They do not appear out of thin air. What countries are they from? How many?

  • BobbyD says:

    I don’t understand the dire posts. Once again, Al Qaeda has overplayed their hands and has forced the Tribes of Anbar back to the government as seen in this morning’s reports.
    “Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Anbar Military Command, told the state television Sunday that “two to three days” are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. Fleih added that pro-government Sunni tribes are leading the operations while the army only is offering aerial cover and logistics on the ground. He didn’t elaborate on the operations.”
    I think both sides have come to the realization that their survival depends on a relationship with each other.

  • chris says:

    Things sure look grim in Iraq and I’m afraid Afghanistan is likely to fall apart after we pull out . The whole Arab world is like a kicked up ants nest

  • blert says:

    Lest we forget… after no end of travail… the CIA/ SOF finally established that Tehran was the ultimate benefactor of AQ in Iraq.
    Iran was the ultimate money fount — either laundering Sunni ‘Golden Chain’ funding — or topping it off with their own monies.
    From where Tehran sits, any campaign that has ARAB Sunnis fighting ARAB Shi’ites has much to commend itself:
    1) The Iraqi Shi’ites fall in the service of Allah; the ideal way to enter paradise.
    2) The Sunni are cleansed from their traditional homes — Baghdad in particular.
    3) The ‘Other Guys’ have to spend $1,000 for every $1 spend by the mullahs…. economic warfare pure and simple.
    4) The disruption stops the further acceleration of Iraq into the second position, behind KSA, as the next big exporter from the Gulf.
    [This prospect has really focused minds in Tehran. ALL of her real clout comes by way of the oil market. Iraq’s crude is essentially identical to Iran’s. During the American syndicated embargo, Iraq’s exports exceeded Iran’s.]
    [This trend is compounded by American fracking. There is open talk in DC of ending the American crude oil export embargo. It’s termination would come at the direct expense of Iranian markets. There is only one trade that the law shut down: Japanese importation of Alaskan crude. (Things were different back then.) Alaskan crude would be re-vectored back to Japan even today… displacing Iranian crude oil sales. Such a trade would be primarily driven by the hefty spread in transportation charges.]
    5) All too soon, Baghdad MUST bring its army into the fight against the Sunnis. The fanatics are, currently, able to rest easy in al Anbar, entirely outside the range of any air strikes. As it stands, light aircraft can land all over the upper Euphrates Valley without interdiction. One can only imagine how many are coming in from Turkey and KSA, and Qatar.
    [ Iraq has no effective air force, and doesn’t figure to have one for years on end.]
    6) Iran has been at war with the world since the Revolution. With the exception of national defense, Tehran has ALWAYS used cut-outs for its aggressions. Indirection is always the style.
    [ The Benghazi op would fit this template perfectly. While launched on 9-11-12, and with a an “orgy of evidence” pointing towards a Sunni-AQ crew; it managed to cut off the arms deliveries to the Syrian front while humiliating the American administration. The Muslim Brotherhood, a de facto ally of Tehran, was one layer of the cut-out.
    (The Egyptian government has, of late, exposed this tight connection. And, who could forget that Morsi reversed thirty-years of policy: permitting Iran transit rights for the Suez Cannal? Said rights have been revoked. Iranian weaponry is now found all over the Sinai — in the hands of the anti-Egyptian jihadis. Such is treason.)
    What is one to make of IRGC (male) Red Crescent ‘nurses’ seized by Sunni militia in the weeks before the 9-11-12 attack? They were duly reported by Reuters… it was BIG news locally. Apparently, the ‘nurses’ were found pacing off distances parallel to the American (CIA) complex in Benghazi when they were nabbed. A true cynic might presume that Iran/ MB conned the Libyans with lucre and spiel into attacking the very Americans that they were contracted to protect. (!) ]
    At the end of the day, all of the blame falls upon the Sunnis — while Syria is stabilized — and 0bama takes a huge prestige hit.
    This is the signature of Tehran’s deep scheming. It’s the kind of twisted move that appeals to Moscow and Beijing, too. No wonder they’re strategic buddies: professional respect.
    In a mono-polar world, when America has such dominance, NO POWER wants to have the breadcrumbs of bloodshed traced directly to their door. The legacy of Pearl Harbor still echoes: there seems to be no upper limit to American military capabilities. So, it’s essential to have cut-outs and fall-guys between you and the Pentagon. While impossible to defeat — straight up — DC is easily baffled — at least for a time.
    During the Cold War, the KGB was able to get one over on the West more than a few times — such gambits lasting even fifty and sixty-years at a stretch. Some KGB successes are so embarrassing that the Left can’t admit it to themselves:
    Blair and Brown owe their careers to KGB funding — when in their twenties…
    Clinton was escorted around the East Bloc, by the KGB — while still in college…
    FDR’s administration had, literally, hundreds of Red agents stuffed in every crevice…
    At Yalta, FDR had enemy agents of influence to his left and right while sitting down to eat…
    Joe McCarthy was being fed the dope on KGB agents by the NSA by way of the FBI (just a cut-out)… most of his targets were KNOWN traitors… they even had their own KGB ‘handles’ (code names) … which was how they were even detected!
    All of which is to say that you can’t trust any of the Leftist narrative about the Cold War — and especially about how they were such dupes during it all.
    Generally, they presume that the CIA/ America is loaded with guile and deceit — while the Other Guys are misunderstood. (!)
    This last tick is evident in Valerie Jarrett.

  • greg says:

    gordon’s statement is imprecise. “Shams” denotes not nowadays Syria, but Greater Syria, and this is why “Levant” is an appropriate translation.

  • donowen says:

    Holding fixed assets is a nightmare for AQ. Assume Maliki allows several weeks for AQ guys to all come home to these cities. Also assume he does not care amount the predominantly Sunni inhabitants-the ones we worried about. Starvation, isolation and artillery will terminate the most ardent fighters. With good intel, drones to hit C&C, reasonable troop levels surrounding these two towns, a siege mentality will limit his casualties while artillery, drones and supply issues will slowly eliminate AQ fighters. This will go and off on for years.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    blert, Iraq does indeed have an air force. And ISIL are not able to rest easy in Anbar away from air strikes, considering Iraq’s defense ministry released a video package of air strikes against ISIL positions.

  • Nimrod Pasha says:

    The Reuters map is shoddy work and somewhat misleading. Although it accurately depicts effective ISIS/AQI control in ground in the Salahuddin/Ninewah/Tamim Za´ab triangle area and belt of the Hamrin mountains to the Muqdadiyah/Baqu´bah upper Diyala river valley area, and the Anbar/Ninewah al-Jazirah desert area, it entirely ignores a substantial area of ISIS/AQI control around the environs of Mosul and the surrounding districts in Ninewah province, probably the largest AQI hub in Iraq. There is also no evidence for such a substantial area of AQI control in southern Diyala stretching from the Iranian border through Wasit, Babil and Karbala´provinces, although AQI probably does exercise some control from Balad Ruz to Salman Pak/Jisr Diyala corridor and the ´triangle of death´ into southern Anbar and Abu Ghraib. The AQI/ISIS presence in southern Iraq depicted in the Reuters map bordering Kuwait is entirely fictional and misleading. I believe the ISW has produced some good maps documenting AQI control in Iraq and Syria.
    Incidentally, the LWJ produced an excellent series of maps detailing Taliban control of districts in Afghanistan prior to and during the 2009/2010 surge in Afghanistan. Any chance we could see a similar series of ISIS/AQI for Iraq and Syria, especially now following the events in al-Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi?

  • gb says:

    Why would you cry? Coalition forces killed hundreds of thousand of bad guys and savages, and decimated its leadership. American warriors and its allies had kill rates of 30_40 to one, these fine young men and women have kept America safe for 13 years, not one of these volunteer soldiers died in vain. If America had wanted to take the land and hold it indefinitely they certainly could have turned it into Post WW II Japan or Post war Germany. That was not the political will of the administration. Don’t be surprised if targeted raids and strikes become the norm in these hot zones in the future. I think the future bolds well for the SOC .

  • Green1Delta says:

    Why is everyone so ‘sad’ about this? Why are you lamenting the loss of your buddies who died in Fallujah? You already knew they gave their lives for nothing; you already knew the whole thing was a farce. They have retaken a city that has always belonged to them, for which they have fought courageously time and again. Of course Fallujah is lost; it was never taken.
    Animo et Fide!
    C Troop, 1/1 Cavalry
    OIF 1 and 2

  • Bungo says:

    Personally, after a lot of hard thinking about this I’m OK with it. What we have here ( and in Syria and now Lebanon ) is basically a Sunni vs Shia battle throughout the middle east spearheaded by the jihadi/AQs. Not only does this keep them occupied and away from attacks on Western nations but it thins the herd of nut-jobs and may actually bring things to a point in Muslim countries where they may have to deal with the radicals in their religion among themselves instead of outsiders. This may be a natural evolutionary process that could bring about a “reformation” or some sort of freedom of religion in the muslim world. Until then I think we are wise to stay out of it and watch them kill each other on TV until they tire themselves out and realize the futility of it all.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    There are some indications that ISIS in Syria is redeploying to Iraq, en masse. The indigenous Syrian rebels and YPF have had enough and are fighting back against all foreigners, with apparent success. The Syrian rebels do not need manpower, they need weapons and munitions only. The ISIS remnants will most likely move to the Ramadi/Fallujah/Hit front, seasoned and well equipped. Maliki has his hands full now. It’s like playing three-dimensional chess.

  • Caleb says:

    I just want to point out to the two guys arguing Arabic that you’re both right, in separate ways.
    The first person had it right when he said “ash-Sham” (الشام), which correlates to what is essentially the Levant and not just Syria. To the latter person, you are right about the geographical meaning, but your word choice was wrong. You said “ash-Shams”, a trivial difference in English, but a world of matter in Arabic. ‘ash-Shams” (الشمس) means “the sun”.
    Anyway, to m3fd2002: Do you have a source for that claim? I’m not doubting you, I just want to see it for myself. I was actually thinking earlier today that a strategic withdrawal of some forces from Syria and moving them to Iraq would be in favor to ISIS’s interests. Following rebel in-fighting in Northern Syria and a military offensive in the works for both Fallujah and Ramadi, ISIS might benefit by allocating more fighters and resources for the Iraq fight. Instigating more sectarian fighting in Iraq, as well as maybe strengthening alliances with tribes who hate the Maliki government more, would put Iraq in severe dire straits. ISIS, possibly at the behest of Zawahiri, could potentially start to shift back to Iraq and let their brothers in al-Nusra worry about Syria for now. I mean, let’s be honest, both Iraq and Syria are important areas for al-Qaeda. If al-Qaeda could leave the Syrian operation for Jabhat al-Nusra, a more local group, it might help their image in the region, cut down on losses from in-fighting, and still keep a large presence in the fight against Assad.
    However, with more US assistance (I agree with Mr. James Jeffery’s assessment last night on PBS that it is, in fact, our fight), it is entirely possible for the Iraqi government to push al-Qaeda out of both Ramadi and Fallujah. Of course, this does nothing to improve the relationship between the Maliki Shi’ite government and the Sunni population of al-Anbar, but it would be a step in the right direction. If the US could somehow regain some influence and leverage within Iraqi politics, we might even be able to persuade Maliki to improve Sunni conditions to an extent, and even assuage sectarian tensions. I may be overstepping our current position in Iraq, but nevertheless, it is something that needs (and should) happen.

  • Fred says:

    So ISIS and Nusra have finally split ways and ISIS is now fighting a 2 front war against the Iraqi government, the Iraqi militias, the Syrian government, the Kurds, the FSA (and co.), and Al Nusra (raise your hand if I’ve forgotten anyone). Seems like all good news to me.
    Of course, I sympathize with Assad more than the revolutionaries, who will probably kill every Alawite in Syria if they win the war. Those who disagree with me should probably worry about what Assad is going to do once this fighting gets serious.


  • BobbyD says:

    SUNNI Tribes are in the lead and are backed by air support and logistics from the government. AQ overplayed their hands again. All is not lost. Maliki has screwed up time and time again in regards to these tribes, but he has another opportunity to get it right.

  • kit says:

    Scott J,
    I agree with your assessment.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    I can’t find the few articles that mentioned the ISIS movements. I’ll try and give a source in the future. Some of my statements were conjecture. However, KavkazCenter posted a series of videos:
    which show a significant ISIS column in Ramadi (according to Kavkaz). They look to be clothed in cold weather gear, so the timing would be right. Regardless, the video showed a large contingent of technicals (new toyota/nissan quad pickups) equipped with a variety of AAA. They also showed a number of captured police officers and vehicles along with 6 destroyed HUMVEES. This was a significant attack. The press is minimizing the scale of this event. The Iraqi army could retake these areas, but it would be bloody and probably counter-productive without local support.


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